Guest Column: Give yourself a break

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RBC | This September, in honor of SAMHSA’s Recovery Month, the Health Partnership has released this wellness series exploring the healing power of social connection, laughter, nutrition, exercise and learning. In this final piece, we discuss the importance of downshifting.

Amidst our busy lives, it can be hard to remember to take time for relaxation. Stress is inevitable, and some types of stress are even good for you (see last week’s article). Even so, your body and brain need a break. Chronic stress leads to inflammation, putting you at higher risk for both mental and physical complications: heart disease, headaches, GI problems, sexual dysfunction and even cancer.

Finding and maintaining good mental health often involves several aspects of our lives: social, emotional, physical, mental and spiritual. When one of these facets crumbles, a domino effect may ensue. Self-care may seem like the lowest priority for parents, caregivers, educators and people who organize their lives in service to others, but all things need routine maintenance. Cars need oil changes. Computers need updates. Buildings need renovations. And to be good at things you take pride in, you need a break.

Sleep

Just like nutrition and movement, sleep plays a fundamental role for your physical and emotional health. Good quantity and quality of sleep goes beyond preventing crankiness; it affects your entire body, including your hormones, brain function, moods, immune system and even your metabolism and appetite. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and that school-age children get 9-11 hours each night. Don’t put it off thinking that you can “catch up” on sleep later; sleep repairs, rejuvenates and detoxifies your body at the cellular level, and if you short yourself on these processes throughout the week, your body will not do overtime work on the weekend. Visit www.sleep.org for strategies to improve the quality of your sleep and learn more about how sleep impacts your short-term and long-term health.

Meditation

It may be easy to see how nutrition, exercise and sleep directly affect bodily function, but did you know that meditation can have a similar effect on your brain? We’re not just talking about thinking and emotional patterns, either. Meditation supports neurogenesis (the building of brain cells) in the part of your brain that controls learning and memory, which is the region that has been linked to depression—the hippocampus. That’s right, meditation can literally grow your brain.

Meditation doesn’t have to be perfect or time-consuming. Just 10 to 20 minutes of intentional, quiet reflection can help relieve stress, improve memory and support positive thoughts for resilience, all while growing new cells and connections in your brain. You can listen to music, nature or nothing at all. You can try to think of pleasant things, visualize solving a problem or think of nothing at all. Breathe deep, and position yourself in a comfortable place. Need some extra help, or skeptical of meditation? Go high-tech and find an app that will help you to get started with this practice!

Give yourself free time

Yes, seriously. Find it. Keep it sacred. Demand it for yourself. Insist on it for your family. Journal, draw, bake or go for a walk. Fill it with whatever strikes you in the moment. To find some ideas, go back and read parts 1-3 of this series!

There are many paths to wellness and recovery. For professional help options, visit MindSpringsHealth.org. To celebrate September as Recovery Month, view our full calendar of events at www.ncchealthpartnership.org/news/calendar!

 

Special to the Herald Times